Staunton, March 25 – On March 18, Vladimir Putin “won something more than elections: he won the battle for ‘the collective unconsciousness’ of the Russian people; and because he did so, Vladimir Pastukhov argues, the Kremlin leader would have won even if the vote had been fully free and fair
And that constitutes “a serious warning” for those who think otherwise: “By itself, the UK-based Russian historian says, “Putin’s departure from politics … will not lead automatically to a change of the political regime if the common format or relations between the leader and masses remain as they are” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/03/24/75929-tri-prezidentskie-karty).
Putin’s opponents and their supporters, who back “the so-called ‘European choice’ stubbornly do not want to recognize that they have suffered in Russia a political and no some inexplicable mythical defeat.” The elections featured falsifications, of course, but that does not explain why Putin won and they did not. Those who think otherwise “are deeply mistaken.”
And even when Putin’s opponents blame his victory on his control of the media, they fail to recognize that the regime could “effectively deceive only those who are glad to be deceived.” The Soviet propaganda machine was much stronger than Putin’s, Pastukhov says, and it couldn’t save the situation when people ceased to believe it.
“The unvarnished truth,” he continues, “is that Putin’s political course enjoys real support from his people.” And he would have won even if he had allowed Navalny to run and the opponents full access to the media: his percentage might have been smaller than it was, but participation would have been larger.
“I am prepared,” the historian continues, “even to go further and suggest that if in the course of the campaign it suddenly came out that Putin personally had given all the most illegal orders on earth, that would not have significantly affected the results of the voting: attitudes toward Putin have for a long time been a question of faith and not of knowledge.”
Pastukhov says that there is the story, now impossible to check, that Boris Nemtsov asked Putin not to restore the Soviet anthem as the Russian hymn. Putin asked if the opposition figure liked the music. Nemtsov said no. Putin responded that he didn’t either but “the people like it” and thus it must be restored.
Putin won the election then “not with the assistance of political technology tricks as many would lie to believe but politically by offering the country not in words but indeed a course” which the people wanted. In this, he showed himself to be a genuine politician, someone capable of “singing the songs which the people liked.” His opponents didn’t.
Since the unrest of 2011-2012, Putin has carefully developed “a real program,” one consisting of three “cards” – and he thereby “won ‘the Jackpot’ of the Russian counter-revolution.” His opponents, in contrast, did not and do not have a single trump card in their hands.
Putin’s first card, of course, is playing on Russians’ Versailles syndrome, on the politics of grievance for all the losses Russians believe they have taken and want to strike back at the world for. His second card is the passionate Russian desire for stability over everything else, a desire rooted in the notion that any changes will make things work.
And his third card, which he has played just as masterfully as the first two, is his willingness to defer to the “traditional rejection by the main part of Russian society of vapitalism, bourgeois values in general and private property in particular, that is, a rejection of everything included in the term ‘European choice.’”
A small minority pursued that choice at the end of the 20th century, Pastukhov argues; but “the main mass of the population remained as it had been a prisoner of traditional values.” Putin, he continues, “long ago seized the left agenda from the marginal Russian communists and exploited it with success.”
One must carefully distinguish between the leitmotif of Putin’s policies and the ways he has carried them out, Pastukhov says. “Repressions, propaganda and falsificaitons are all secondary. The primary factors are a combination of three things” he and the people agree on – “militarism, the archaic and leftist populism.”
Because of this, Russians would have voted for Putin even in democratic elections.” And he won’t suffer if his actions are “unmasked” in the near future.
“All this became possible,” the historian says, “only because Putin already in 2014, that is, before the counter-revolutionary coup, was able to reform the people ‘under himself.” He divided and subordinated to himself the elites.” As a result, even before “’the Russian spring,’ the elites ceased to play any independent political role in Russia.”
That gave Putin the opportunity to bypass the elites entirely and root his power in the masses. Theoretically, Pastukhov says, there are “two global scenarios for the development of the situation after the elections.” On the one hand, sooner or later, something will be able to reach out and captivate the masses but as of now, Russians don’t want to listen to anyone else.
Or on the other, the elites may be able to break out of their chains and “recover their place as a mediator between the power and the masses.” If that happens – and it would be “the optimal scenario for Russia,” Pastukhov argues – society will reacquire space for maneuver and the chance to escape from the current impasse.
“Only the elites can impose limiting frameworks on the powers; the masses cannot do this,” the historican says. Now, the masses are in Putin’s corner; and the elites aren’t able to act as mediators. Unless than relationship between the Kremlin leader, the elites and the masses changes, Russia won’t change even if Putin leaves the scene.